- Some of the commentary on Smith’s sacking is over-stressing policy factors (the “legacy issues”) at the expense of personal ones.
- The main lesson of his firing is: this is shaping up to be the Loyalty Shuffle. Smith was seen to be briefing against Johnson and his Brexit policy pre-election. Leadsom is a former leadership rival. Cox was felt to be not fully on board. Ghani was a Hunt supporter last year.
- Competence is important to Number Ten – which is why Sharma, Dowden and Trevelyan are set to be promoted. But it must come with a personal commitment to the Prime Minister.
- And loyalty is not enough on its own. Like Johnson, Villiers is one of the original senior Vote Leavers. But Downing Street sources claim that she “needed to have her hand held” and, while not wanting Ministers to grandstand in the media, say that she took the opposite to an extreme.
- There’s no suggestion that Skidmore isn’t competent, but his move suggests that Downing Street wants a new broom to deal with Universities and science policy, which is of special interest to Dominic Cummings.
- Javid, Raab, Patel and Gove – the most senior four Ministers – are in Downing Street. None will move.
- Cox writes a farewell letter that balances i) making it clear that he hasn’t gone willingly with ii) statements of future loyalty and iii) a tribute to Brexit and Johnson’s leadership of the project.
- Here’s a surprise. Nus Ghani, tipped for promotion as HS2 Minister, has been sacked. She was a Jeremy Hunt supporter in last year’s leadership election.
- Michael Ellis, the Solicitor-General, is taking Commons questions in the absence of an Attorney-General.
- George Freeman, with his puppyish energy and passion for ideas, is out from the Transport Department. “On my bike,” he tweets.
- A former Minister in that department, currently at the Treasury, was sworn into the Privy Council yesterday. Is a promotion coming today for Jesse Norman?
- Leadsom is out – she praises her team, “looks forwards to focusing on my constituents and on my 20+ year campaign to see every baby get the best start in life” – and takes a parting shot at the Prime Minister over gender equality.
- So is McVey – who makes no pretence about going willingly: “I’m very sorry to be relieved of my duties as Housing Minister.”
- And so is Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, who departs with aplomb.
- If the number of women in and attending Cabinet is to remain constant, as Number Ten was briefing yesterday, that means three more will later be promoted to it – if Villiers has indeed gone too.
- Cox is out – and questions to the Attorney-General will take place in the Commons Chamber in less than half and hour. Who will be at the despatch box on the Government’s behalf?
- The Prime Minister has left the building – the Palace of Westminster, that is. He’s gone by car to Downing Street. The sackings are over and the promotions are set to begin.
Wednesday February 12
Paul Goodman reporting.
- The stage is set. The Prime Minister has been meeting Ministers to sack them in his Commons office. He will move to Downing Street mid-morning. He will promote and appoint other Ministers from there: these will walk into Number Ten in front of the cameras. Repeat until close of play late this afternoon.
- Julian Smith is sacked.
- Geoffrey Cox, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa Villiers are also reported to have gone in to Johnson’s office – which would means that they will all be fired too.
- There is a row about whether Smith kept Downing Street informed of his approach to the treatment of Northern Ireland veterans. Sources there claim he didn’t keep them in the loop; he says that he did. But this dismissal is ultimately about loyalty to Johnson: the Cummings group within Number Ten, and not least the Prime Minister himself, believe that Smith worked and briefed against the Brexit policy pre-election.
- What does Smith’s sacking mean for the veterans policy itself? Some will see it as a signal that Johnson is prepared to row back from the settlement announced in January on the so-called “legacy” issues. This is always a flammable issue – especially given support for veterans in the Commons, the views of Northern Ireland Unionists and the stance of Sinn Fein, now the biggest party in the Dail following Ireland’s election.
– – – – – – – – – –
Wednesday February 12
- Oliver Dowden and Alok Sharma will be promoted. The Times is reporting that Sharma will be Business Secretary, replacing Andrea Leadsom.
- There is not expected to be a reduction in the number of female members of Cabinet (whether that includes those who “also attend” isn’t clear).
- Nicky Morgan is known to be retiring. Dowden will apparently replace her.
- Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Suella Braverman and Gillian Keegan are in line for promotion. Trevelyan was appointed to Defence as a Minister of State last summer, and now serves as Minister for the Armed Forces. Trevelyan is set to become International Development Secretary according to the Times.
- Keegan is a Defence PPS. Braverman and Trevelyan both resigned on the same day over Brexit in November 2018.
- If Geoffrey Cox departs the Government tomorrow – though not a full member of Cabinet he is entitled to attend it as Attorney General – it may be worth noting that Braverman is a lawyer.
- The Times also says that George Eustice will become Environment Secretary, replacing Theresa Villiers.
- So if as the Times also claims Liz Truss and Therese Coffey see out the shuffle, that also suggests that, with Morgan leaving the Cabinet and Trevelyan entering it, either Villiers and Leadsom stay on elsewhere within it, or else two new women beside Trevelyan are appointed (if there is no reduction in female Cabinet members).
- The most vulnerable male member of Cabinet has been reported to be Ben Wallace. But according to the Times the Defence Secretary will survive, and Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is potentially in the firing line. ConservativeHome put a questionmark against his name a few days ago.
- Stand back from these comings and goings and there is a bigger picture. In this reshuffle, Boris Johnson is aiming for half of the Government’s Under-Secretaries of State to be women. That’s the second-lowest rung of Government. By the summer, at least three in five Parliamentary PPS’s roles will be held by female MPs. That’s the lowest.
- In short, Downing Street is moving to bury claims that a mass of women Cabinet Ministers will be fired tomorrow. And to prove that Johnson is determined to solve “the pipeline problem” – i.e: the claimed lack of suitable women to be promoted to senior Ministerial posts.
- Number Ten says that “the Prime Minister wants this reshuffle to set the foundations for Government now and in the future. He wants to promote a generation of talent that will be promoted further in the coming years. He will reward those MPs who have worked hard to deliver on this Government’s priorities to level up the whole country and deliver the change people voted for last year.”